Planner optimism wanes as more events shift to 2021

Future events will be fewer, smaller and closer to home, reveals Northstar’s Pulse Survey

Opportunities await savvy suppliers who are accessible as clients find increasing difficulty in reaching their suppliers.
Opportunities await savvy suppliers who are accessible as clients find increasing difficulty in reaching their suppliers.

USA - Meeting planner optimism about the return of live events is waning, according to Northstar Meetings Group's latest Pulse Survey. Fewer respondents are actively planning and booking meetings. Those who are, meanwhile, are increasingly choosing dates in 2021 at the earliest. And even when we're past the COVID-19 crisis, we should expect to see fewer, smaller and more local events. A decline in confidence is evident throughout the survey's May 19 findings.

Northstar's Pulse Survey, conducted every two weeks, assesses how the global pandemic has affected meeting planners, including their job status, business plans and projections for the future of their events. The latest findings are based on 805 planner respondents.

More are looking, fewer are booking

The job market for meeting planners has remained stable, with 82% still working full time, and a slight uptick in the number of those based in their business locations rather than at home. However, the percentage of planners sourcing and booking has steadily declined, from 40% in mid-April to 31% in the most recent survey. At the same time, fewer are doing the legwork now for future meetings and events. Nearly 28% are in a holding pattern and not actively planning meetings at this point.

Working with suppliers is a growing problem
For almost two-thirds of respondents, reaching suppliers has been more difficult than usual or "very difficult," while the number of planners who have not had a problem has dipped to 23%. The fact that unemployment in the travel sector has reached 51% is could be the likely driving factor. The impasse has widened in the past four weeks, pointing to an opportunity for suppliers to be more accessible to clients and prospects.

Events are shifting into 2021
Rescheduled events are moving out of 2020 and into next year. Results show a steady decline in the number of planners expected to hold live events this summer at the earliest. Half of respondents have pushed dates into 2021 and beyond.

The decline in confidence is more significant for new (not rescheduled) events. Just 28% expect to go forward with meetings this year; of those, fewer than 5% plan to meet this summer.

Fewer meetings will be held next year
In terms of the number of events respondents will plan for next year, the overriding sentiment has shifted from "too soon to know" to an understanding that fewer events will be held next year. In just two weeks, those expecting the number of events to decline rose from 30% to 36%.

The largest events will see the greatest decline
Once the threat of COVID-19 is behind us, meetings that draw 5,000 attendees or more will see the steepest drop in frequency. More than half (55%) of respondents expect to plan fewer events of that size in the 12 to 18 months following the crisis. That is up from 40% just two weeks ago.

The more local the event, the more likely it is to happen
Even when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, more than half of respondents say they will plan fewer international events. That declining confidence is notable for national and regional events, too. For local events, the only category where a slight uptick in volume was anticipated over the past month, the expectation now is for that business to remain flat.

Big venues have the most to lose
It stands to reason that a dramatic drop in the number of large events being planned will coincide with less need for large venues. While every type of venue should expect a decline in business, per survey results, the most dramatic losses will be felt by cruise ships, gaming facilities, sports venues and convention centres. Those that stand to lose the least are resorts, boutique hotels and suburban properties.

Digital, legal and medical advice is needed
With the only certainty being that live meetings will be dramatically different, planners recognise the need for knowledge about digital event platforms, virtual site visits, legal guidance and medical advice. These imperatives have remained consistent week over week, along with strong needs for information about the logistics of live events going forward.

Travel policies and airfares are top worries
Planners have a long list of concerns. Chief among them, cited by 86% of respondents, is that business travel policies will restrict people from attending meetings. The survey shows consistently high levels of concern about budget cuts, reduced demand, F&B safety and the ability of hotels and venues to safely accommodate their groups. Meanwhile, this week's findings reveal a dramatic increase in concern about rising airfares and the availability of flights.

Verbatim comments
Meeting planners' worries include logistics, uncertainty, the need to collaborate, and making their concerns known to decision-makers and stakeholders:

"My biggest struggle is trying to keep our executives and board grounded in reality," lamented one respondent. "They are very optimistic that our fall 2020 event will not only take place but will be just the same as other years. I have been doing my best to provide realistic options and manage expectations, but so far I worry that I am not being heard."

"It's impossible to know what the future holds; all we know is that it will be different."

"Our industry will be better as long as we all collaborate and are aware of our responsibilities to our clients and our industry - and not just ourselves."

Let us take your pulse
Northstar Meetings Group's Pulse Survey is conducted every two weeks, capturing changes in sentiment and expectations as the meetings industry responds to new challenges and imperatives brought by the worldwide pandemic.

Meeting planners are encouraged to participate in the next Pulse Survey which closes on 2 June 2020 so that we may share the most accurate and up-to-date perspective on your collective needs with industry stakeholders worldwide.

This is an abridged version of an original article that first appeared in Northstar Meetings Group.

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